RSC-Shakespeare-Histories
Performing Histories is an ongoing project that explores the many ways histories are told through performance.

It began as a three-year (2010-2013) SSHRC-funded project, Performing History, Making History, which focused on how history is represented on stage and how historical meaning is created through performance. My partner on the project was the English Theatre Company at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa led by artistic director Peter Hinton and dramaturge Paula Danckert. I had the pleasure of working with many theatre professionals, designers, and actors during this period. You can read more about the project, follow the links to explore the three productions at the project’s centre (Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Vimy – a co-production with the Great Canadian Theatre Company), and related work on A Christmas Carol, Macbeth, Mother Courage, and Riel. There are links to interviews, reports, publications, and presentations.

Since 2013 the project has shifted focus to explore the role of theatre and performance in museums, but staging histories in theatre continues to play a role in my research, teaching, and community collaborations.

Full Project Description

 


Romeo-Juliet-NAC

Romeo and Juliet

What do we mean by a “period production”? Usually it means setting a play in the period in which it was written and first performed, in this case Elizabethan England of the 1590s. Shakespeare, however, set the play in Italy of the late middle ages/early Renaissance. Immediately, then, we find ourselves negotiated between two periods and two locations if we are seeking to be “true to the period”. The 2010 production at the National Arts Centre was a period play in several senses: costumes were inspired by Italian artist (and Shakespeare’s contemporary) Caravaggio, it was performed on an Elizabethan thrust-stage with a minimalist set evocative of Elizabethan staging, and the sword-fights referenced the manuals of the 16th century. My task as Company Historian was to share my understanding of the period with the acting company and the creative team.

NAC Study Guide

 


KingLear-Fools-Costume

King Lear

2012 was a landmark year for the history of theatre in Canada. For the very first time an all-Aboriginal acting company performed an un-adapted King Lear on the main stage of the National Arts Centre. A long-held dream of one of Canada’s greatest actors, August Schellenberg, this production moved Shakespeare’s setting of the play in ancient Britain to his near-contemporary encounters of European-settler culture and indigenous cultures in 17th century North America. As Company Historian I worked with the creative team in researching the period (assisted by Emily Keyes); editing Shakespeare’s text with director Peter Hinton, dramaturge Paula Danckert, and assistant director Lorne Cardinal; and liaising with one of the most remarkable aspects of this unique production, the Four Nations Exchange led by artist and educator Suzanne Keeptwo.

NAC Study Guide by Suzanne Keeptwo (with a little by David Dean)

 


Vimy

Vimy

Vern Theisen’s Vimy is one of the most performed plays in the history of Canadian theatre. This was the first joint production between the National Art Centre’s English Theatre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company and was directed by Linda Moore. Opening on Remembrance Day, the play spoke to our own present (the war in Afghanistan) as well as the Great War (the First World War) and to our identity as Canadians. Ashlee Beattie, a research assistant on the project who had deep performance experience playing the role of nurse during the War, worked with the Company on a daily basis, while I focused on analysing the play, the production, and conducting a survey of the audience on how they experienced history on stage. One of my graduate students, Chris Schultz, wrote the study guide for the play. One of the most intriguing events surrounding the production was a roundtable with the playwright Vern Theissen, NAC English Theatre artistic director Peter Hinton, Canadian War Museum historian Tim Cook, and myself on The Theatre of War.

The Survey: Summary Report

My article focusing on Vimy: Theatre: A Neglected Site of Public History?

 


 

Associated Productions

A Christmas Carol
As Company Historian I shared historical evidence and understanding about the world of Dickens, the poor, workhouses and so on with the Company for this 2009 production. You can listen to my conversation with artistic director Peter Hinton: 
Hinterview with David Dean, 22 February 2009

Mother Courage and Her Children

Lecturing on the Thirty Years War as well as the period of Nazism during which Brecht wrote the play, this was an intriguing experience because of the realizing of early modern horrors with those of the 20th century and when Canada was at war in Afghanistan. 
NAC Study Guide.

Macbeth

One of my first encounters with a full production at the English Theatre, this production was set the middle of the 20th century. The witches were child evacuees. It challenged my historian’s understanding of the importance of accuracy.
 An Actor among the Historians Page 1 / An Actor among the Historians Page 2

Riel

Rummaging in the warrens of the NAC I came across a number of maquettes or models of the sets for many productions. I chose the set for their 1975 staging of John Coulter’s Riel, one of the landmark productions in the history of Canadian theatre for a 3D rendering. A few years later I had the pleasure of supervising Emily Keyes in her honour’s student project re-imagining the play in light of recent historical scholarship.


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